Acquiring creativity to improve business

We knew it couldn’t be long before WPP Group made a sortie into design to buy another consultancy. It’s a while since the marketing services supergroup made its last move in our direction – the acquisition of Coley Porter Bell in 1989 being the most recent big one – and Addison’s expertise in annual reports complements WPP’s global Enterprise corporate identity network.

Addison’s specialism and commercial success make it a desirable property, and with predators such as US consultancy Diefenbach Elkins, its mighty parent Omnicom and South African heavyweight KSDP Pentagraph hotly pursuing acquisitions it was only a matter of time.

For all its focus on a traditionally staid aspect of corporate design, Addison is plucky. It was one of the first Eighties biggies to buck the trend, Addison Design having bought itself out of the publicly quoted Addison Group in 1989; it hung on to visual creativity for longer than most in its market, while Michael Wolff was at the creative helm; and its successful legal battle against British Gas company Goldbrand and Wolff Olins over the use of a goldfish marque very like its own was courageous.

Having worked alongside market research company Taylor Nelson, its stablemate in Addison Group, and having covered a host of disciplines in the past it should be receptive to other groups in the WPP mix.

So, no surprises. But what we still wonder is exactly how WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell is going to gear his design empire up for the future. Among its main UK interests, Coley Porter Bell and Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise are doing well and have taken bold steps to boost their creative output. Both are also trying to take a more strategic stance with clients. But then so are their rivals.

What, therefore, are Sorrell’s plans, so eloquently outlined in Beans and Pearls – the inspired D&AD President’s Lecture he delivered last November – to put creativity in its broadest sense at the heart of WPP? And how does buying Addison fit in with that scenario? It isn’t, after all, only advertising agencies that are under threat from management consultancies and their ilk for the best of the business. Reports are that the McKinseys of this world are now advising clients on which design groups to hire.

A great design group has skills that potentially surpass those of a management consultant. But we can guess which commands the higher fee and wields most influence. We therefore look to WPP to lead the way for design, not just in giving it global clout and eroding the barriers with other creative disciplines, but in building its reputation as a holistic and dynamic industry.

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